Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Turkey vultures are regular summer residents

Turkey vultures join herring gulls and a raven in cleaning up some fish scraps on an island near Bow Narrows Camp.
Turkey vultures, aka "buzzards," have always been common summer scavengers here. I mention this because often times I hear Northern Ontarians point to the big birds as evidence of global warming. There is no doubt that the climate is warming here in the North, but the presence of turkey vultures is not a sign of it. There have been vultures at Red Lake for as long as I've lived there, 53 years.
Incidentally, our friend and guest Ken Lehmann took this photo. Many of his shots grace this blog.
Turkey vultures are strictly scavengers and are one of the few birds who can detect decomposing flesh by smell.
They are extremely easy to identify at any distance. In fact, if you can see them at all, you can tell they are turkey vultures. That is because they hold their wings above their bodies in a distinctive V. A moment's observation of their soaring flight also gives them away. They quickly shift their position back and forth as if they were tightrope walkers.
Turkey vultures get along with just about every other bird that scavenges, including bald eagles. In fact, I have read that these other birds sometimes rely on the vulture to find the dead creature first by using their sense of smell. If the carcass is a big animal, say a deer, the vulture may need the eagles and ravens to rip it open because the vulture's beaks are not strong enough for the job. It's a symbiotic relationship.
One of the most startling experiences I have had at camp was the result of a turkey vulture. I had gone fishing for northern pike with our outside helper, Kevin Ritchie, early in the spring when we heard an incredible roaring sound. It nearly made us jump out of our skins.
"What did that sound like to you?" I asked Kevin.
"A mountain lion!" he replied.
Exactly what I thought, and if that is how the incident had ended I would have gone on record as having heard the roar of a cougar, or mountain lion. However, the creature that made the noise was also being mobbed by a bunch of crows and that let us pinpoint its location. We moved in for a closer look and were stunned to see a turkey vulture sitting on what was apparently its nest on the ground. It was the vulture making the roaring, hissing sound.
If you would like to hear this for yourself, click on this Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and hit the Sound tab and then that of the Juvenile Defensive Hiss.

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